For Arsenal supporters, there was good news and bad news from the Champions League draw yesterday. The good news is that, according to Danny Fiszman, the director and a significant shareholder, if Arsène Wenger walked into his office this morning and requested £30million for a striker, the funds would be made available in an instant. The bad news? He has not, and Fiszman does not think he will, either.
And so the minutes tick away until the transfer window shuts on Monday and still the tumbleweed blows across Arsenal's Hertfordshire training ground, as Wenger sits in front of the latest raft of ProZone reports, shuffling a group of players only he is convinced can mount a serious challenge to Manchester United and Chelsea this season.
The Barclays Premier League's elite four were all present at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo last night, Chelsea players laden with Uefa awards, United confident in their position as Europe's team to beat, Rick Parry, the Liverpool chief executive, bearing the look of a man who dare not answer his cellphone and Fiszman representing a club who have seen some of their best players picked off by rivals this summer and are yet to respond with conviction.
In the red part of North London, the locals are not happy. An accident-prone defender, Philippe Senderos, has been replaced by one who is equally fallible and older in Mikaël Silvestre, Samir Nasri will take the place of Alexander Hleb, but it is too early to know whether Arsenal have traded up, while there is no holding midfield player to fill the hole left by Mathieu Flamini.
Some now view Wenger's pursuit of youth and beauty as nothing more than indulgence. They want Wenger to buy, and big, and suspect that, because he does not, Arsenal lack funding. Fiszman is insistent that this is not true. His statements will placate sections of the Arsenal crowd, but not all. Many will still question why Wenger takes pride in hoarding a pile of cash where a pile of trophies could be.
“If Arsène said he needed £30million for a striker, he would get it, no problem at all,” Fiszman said. “It is not our decision who he spends money on and nor will it ever be. We totally back Arsène, but there is a dual problem for him. If we were to buy the sort of big names that people talk about, we would be looking at relatively mature players who then need to be integrated into the way we play.
“Secondly, it impacts on the youngsters, and in many cases Arsène thinks it is quicker for us to bring a player through our system. But that does not mean all we are interested in is the artistic achievement award. We are not settling for second-best. We want to win trophies and I think it is time we did, but Arsène also believes in creating teams with a certain style.
“There were great hopes that we would buy heavily this summer. But I would refute that we have not bought well. Nasri has two goals in two games at the Emirates Stadium, and if Arsène could find the right player, he would buy again, but he hasn't.
“I hear all the time that we have no money, but I just wish someone would take the time to look at our accounts. We do not need extra investment. This is a proper business which produces its own cash and lives or dies by its performances. Our net payments are £20million and the revenue increase from the new stadium is close to £50million. Explain to me how that stadium is a drain on the club, when it produces an extra £30million a year.
“This constant suggestion that the stadium is bleeding us dry is crap. The reality is our wage bill is very similar to Manchester United, substantially above Liverpool and substantially below Chelsea - but that is to be expected. We pay good salaries, but we pay them more evenly, so we do not have extremes of very high and very low wage-earners. There is an ethos of a team effort.”
If Arsenal's finances were as bleak as suggested, Fiszman could not have put such a brave face on the Champions League draw, with its long trips to Istanbul and Ukraine. Arsenal play Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers either side of a match away to Dynamo Kiev, on September 17, the sort of sequence it is said that shatters their delicate equilibrium.
Liverpool have fared little better with a group that could be problematic. Fernando Torres returns to Atlético Madrid, which is nice for him, but not perhaps for his team-mates, considering the demolition of Schalke 04 that got his former club into the group stage. PSV Eindhoven are technically impressive and Marseilles caused Liverpool problems last season before order was restored in their second meeting. Even so, not easy.
The plum draw for United was a meeting with Celtic, but it is indicative of how repetitive these Champions League occasions are becoming that this pairing drew only a fleeting excitement in the hall. United have met Celtic at this stage before, and recently; Rangers, too. These days, it is the journeys into the unknown that are most captivating, even if we probably know the result of the match before we set off.
To which end, all hail CFR 1907 Cluj, champions of Romania and host to Chelsea on October 1. From the city of Cluj-Napoca in north-western Transylvania - home to the Cheeky Girls, incidentally - they are the first team outside of Bucharest to win the domestic league in 17 years, capping a meteoric rise from third-division status only six years ago.
New money has helped to forge a partnership with Benfica, of Portugal, and populated the team with Latin imports, mainly from South America. Cluj were the first team to field a starting XI without a single Romanian national. Right up Chelsea's alley, as the Cheeky Girls might say.